Like its 1995 predecessor, Microserfs, Douglas Coupland’s latest foray into the annals of extreme contemporaneousness delves into the world of a group of young programmers, this time substituting a Vancouver-based video-game design company for Microsoft. The group is referred to as jPod because the names of all six programmers working within the “pod,” including Ethan Jarlewski, the book’s protagonist, begin with J.
The novel’s breathless, cartoon pacing is established at the outset, where we find the “podsters” in a state of great agitation after being told by their chief marketer that they must retroactively insert a loveable turtle character into the skateboarding game they have partially completed. Compounding the stress of the announcement are the various antics of Ethan’s dysfunctional family: his mother, who runs a grow-op out of the family home, unwittingly kills a biker and needs help disposing of the body; his father, a lover of ballroom dancing whose second career as a film actor has yet to land him a speaking role, is having an affair with a drug-addled woman half his age; while his brother takes the liberty of using Ethan’s apartment to occasionally house smuggled Chinese immigrants.
Coupland himself is pilloried on the first page as an “asshole” by the other characters, and later appears as a haughty, sinister manipulator who forces Ethan to surrender the contents of his laptop to form the contents of his next novel (presumably this one). Oozing irony from every crevice, the novel is also a compendium of lists, miscellany, visual jokes, and slogans. Its characters, including Coupland himself, are largely snarky, unlikeable and arch; the plot is frenetically goofy. But despite the implied self-deprecation in his portrayal of himself, Coupland’s presence in the book comes off as actually more self-aggrandizing.
Ultimately, the book’s entire structure acts as a scaffold on which to hang an endless litany of geek water-cooler jokes whose cultural and technological references have a shelf life self-consciously limited to the week the book gets published – a fact that, for Coupland fans, may be seen as exactly the point.